BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Saturday, April 14, 2012

We're Lexicomanes, Are You?

Lexicomane: Noun, dictionary lover. lexico-, lexi-, lex-, -lexia, -lexias, -lexic, -lectic, -lexis + (Greek: a word; a saying, a phrase; speaking, speech) Closely related to legi-, ligi-, lig-, lect-, -lectic (Latin: read, readable [to choose words; to gather, to collect; to pick out, to choose; to read, to recite]).  ~ From English-Word Information Word Info about English Vocabulary

Yep, dictionary lovers. That's us. Well, Jax and Bea anyway; Liz likes them but doesn't love them. So, what's the big deal about dictionaries? They don't tell a story, they are huge, heavy and have a hard time keeping up with a constantly changing language.

Bea: Dictionaries, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

  1. They contains words, lots and lots of lovely words. And not so lovely words. You can look up anything and find it. One advantage of online dictionaries is their ability to update quickly and add new words and terminology. Most online dictionaries though don't give you the etymology, which leads me to my next point.
  2. I love etymology, the meaning and history of a word and other words that it's related to. Print dictionaries will give you that, online dictionaries are less likely. Urban Dictionary doesn't but Webster's Dictionary does. I don't how many times I've looked up a word and gotten distracted by its etymology and looked up related words; I've probably lost hundreds of hours that way. 
  3. I can get lost for hours in a dictionary. Not only do I get lost in etymology, but my eye spots an unfamiliar word on the page and I just have to read it, and then I get lost in the meaning or usage or etymology.
Those are the main reasons I love dictionaries. I learn so much, and it's at my leisure. I can quickly (well, I can try to be quick :P) look up something that I need to know or I can get lost in an orgy of words and meanings and history. Without words, language is non-existent. I'm not talking about written language, but language in general. Words, whether vocal, printed or signed, have meaning; if the recipient of the words doesn't know or understand the meaning, communication breaks down. So, we have dictionaries, one of the best inventions ever in my very biased opinion.

Of course, there are many kinds of dictionaries. There's the basic dictionary that defines all of the words in a language, there are translation dictionaries where you can look up a word or phrase in one language to see what it is in another language, topic or field specific dictionaries ie a medical terms, sports terms, etc., even a reverse dictionary, where you know the meaning but can't recall the word. With that one, when you find the meaning, it will give a slew of related words and you decide which one that you intended. 

On the internet, you often will have someone pose the question, "If you could take any five books with you while stranded on a desert island, what would they be?" I always include a dictionary; my other choices may vary but I always pick a dictionary. Every story you could want, exists in the dictionary.

One of the best features of my Kindle is that it comes with dictionaries, yes, plural. It came pre-loaded with two dictionaries so when I'm reading and encounter a word whose meaning I'm unsure of, I can easily look it up. This is an excellent feature and one that the Nook has also. I don't know if the Kobo or Sony readers do but I assume so. It only makes sense. It's a definite advantage over print where you have to stop, get your dictionary (if you even have one) and page through until you find the word. So much easier to highlight the word and look it up!

I've had the same print dictionary for 20+ years, I think it's time to upgrade. I shudder to think how out of date it is. Though, I often use a web dictionary these days to look up definitions.

Jax: Ah dictionaries...outside of the usual Little Golden books, the two earliest memories I have of books are the giant Bible with the family tree in it....and the battered dictionary that was just as large. I don't remember who taught me to how to use it, I just remember being told to look things up in it. It was the start of my life long love affair with words. 

In the house, right now, I have my Webster's college dictionary, a Spanish-English dictionary, TWO American Sign language dictionaries, a crossword dictionary, a dictionary of superstitions, and a couple of desk sized dictionaries that the kids could use for school. And that's just the ones I can see from here. We're in the midst of packing. I know there's a few more of these things around somewhere in a box. Like a dictionary of them meaning of flowers. (Did you know people used to send messages using flowers? How freaking cool is that. It explains why some painting of bouquets are so damn garish. If I actually could identify flowers, I'd love to see what the painter was trying to tell us. And some people think still-lives are dull. Betcha' some of those are downright vulgar.) 

Anyway...back on topic. Dictionaries, and by extension thesauri (yes, that's the right word. It's even on the sign at the bookstore, I swear.) give me the ability to play with language in the most amazing ways. Writing, teaching, reading... Dictionaries record the nuances between the synonyms. A thesaurus will tell you how words are similar....dictionaries tell us why they are unique. And they contain SO much information. Not just the meanings of words...but their past. Their pronunciation. (That funny spelling in parenthesis...that's the word written in the International Phonetic Alphabet. Another interest of mine.)

Words are the basis for language. Language allows for stories. Flash fiction, fan fiction, short stories, novellas, novels, series....and the dictionaries are the keepers of the keys, in  a manner of speaking. What is contained within those covers let us paint vivid images, even though I mangle stick figures. Is it really that hard to understand why I think they are so marvelous? 


  1. I too love dictionaries, but I think I love my thesaurus more.

    1. Oh, the thesaurus! Another book worthy of praise. Though I confess, I'm not sure where mine is. *ponders* Anyway, yes, a thesaurus is also wonderfully useful and enjoyable.

  2. The other day I taught a man in line at the DMV the word defenestration. Not that the three hours I spent there in the middle of my 'night' were boring or anything....

    1. And what did you take for reading material?


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